… Providence: involving divine foresight or intervention. “God’s providential care for each of us.”
… Bismillah, al-Rahman, al-Rahim (In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful). [Que’an]
… “He felt that for the first time in his life he was experiencing the universe for what it really is—an unfathomable, mystery, a divine play of energy.” Stanislav Grof, MD, The Holotropic Mind, p. 35
I have come recently to a comprehension of God as a generative genius and a disordering and ordering principle. (Think of galaxies crashing together and the mysterious underworld of quantum mechanics.) I say of God, “which” and not “Who or He nor She,” because these gender terms describe this cosmic genius anthropomorphically. In my opinion, to assign gender to God is way too much description of that which is ultimately most mysterious. As to God qua providential or propitious, I doubt.
Then what am I to make of reports that prayers of supplication have been answered? Would this mean that indeed there is a divine ear attuned to petition?
Not necessarily. What I would say is that any prayerful request for beneficence is essentially a positive and healthy behavioral adaptation of coping with contingency within the human psyche. Believing and going to the trouble of asking God for a helpful intervention is actually a mentally proactive and healing force. Even if no appreciable result occurs, the praying is surely healthier than a state of disheartenment.
A positive outcome may be the result of a combination of the laws of chance, and/or the power of intentionality or positive affirmation within the supplicant. This has been called the “law of attraction”—a hypernatural (not supernatural phenomenon). As Caesar said, “If I could pray to move, prayers would move me.” (Shakespeare, Julius Caesar)
In any case, “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness,” says the sanguine Confucius.
It may, therefore, be that praying is actually praying to oneself; and that when the request manifests, it is we who have orchestrated the answer in some mysterious way. Miracles do happen somehow.
So, God or no personified God, praying can help, though St. Theresa of Avila put a damper on things: “There are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers.” I am not sure what she meant. Could she mean that fulfilled expectations somehow pale after all in the manifestation?
I accept that my screed so far is gloomy—God as neutral, without personality, maybe coolly observant, a detached designer.
But this has already been put forth in the philosophy of Deism. “The most natural position for deists was to reject all forms of supernaturalism, including the miracle stories in the Bible. The problem was that the rejection of miracles also seemed to entail the rejection of divine providence (of God taking a hand in human affairs), something that many deists were inclined to accept. Those who believed in a watch-maker God rejected the possibility of miracles and divine providence. They believed that God, after establishing natural laws and setting the cosmos in motion, stepped away. He didn’t need to keep tinkering with his creation, and the suggestion that he did was insulting.” (Wikipedia, Immortality of Soul)
Now as I proceed, I may be working myself back to what I once accepted—God as approachable, concerned, attentive, caring, loving, “who” answers prayers (ok, we’re back to a person, a Big Person)—though God is baffling. For example, God passes over the chosen but kills the first born of the Egyptians. “Traditionally the name Passover is believed to have originated with God ‘passing over’ the homes of the Jews when he was killing the firstborn sons of Egypt.” Elon Gilad, The Enigmatic Origins of the Words of the Passover Seder.
“I will pass through the land of Egypt, and I will smite every firstborn, and upon all the gods of Egypt I will perform acts of judgment: I, G‑d.”
“The sages queried the frequency of G‑d referring to Himself with the personal pronoun, and explained that G‑d was promising to do it all Himself:
“‘I’ll rescue them, and not send an angel. I, and not a seraph. I, and not a messenger. I’ll do it all Myself.’ ” Elisha Greenbaum, Why G‑d Didn’t Delegate
God loves some folks, and is cruel to other folks? Well, at least God is partly a loving and caring God for some.
Does God have regret? It looks like it. Take notice of this. Genesis 8:11 (CJB) 8 “Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: 9 ‘I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
Looks like God’s mind is like the human mind. God can evolve toward becoming more loving.
Eventually, after the rough times in the Old Testament, God really did the big thing as reported in the New Testament.
1 John 4:8 says: “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” By the time of Jesus, “God is Love.”
What’s Love Got to Do with It? Plenty.
I am not inclined toward orthodoxy as you may have noted, but I may at last arrive at what Dr. Robert Waterman once counseled me: “Two things are needed for your righteous path: the fuel to get there and the right intention. Life is here to remind us of what we want to resolve and to fulfill. Your life is resolved when you have the individual experience of universal love. Always ask ‘love’ what to do no matter how many times you forget. If you have not been entirely skillful with people, and if your intentions were not always quite fully from love, it was pretty close to love.” How wonderfully benevolent is this thought of Dr. Waterman.
I began this foray opining as to whether God is providential or propitious, I doubt. I cannot fathom a divine being with a super personality or any type of personality. I have come round to accepting that my own individual experience might awaken me to something Waterman calls “universal love.” Love is love whether residing within divine personality or not. Some kind of love is better than no love at all.
Going a Little Deeper
The stance I started with above, I admit, is a form of stinginess. “God is providential or propitious? I doubt.”
I am still struggling end up with a positive state of mind. For this I turn to the idea of “bodhicitta.” Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche explains stinginess of soul in The Basic Principle of Bodhicitta.
“The opposite of generosity is stinginess, holding back—having a poverty mentality. The basic principle of the ultimate bodhicitta slogans is to rest in the eighth consciousness, or alaya, and not follow our discursive thoughts. Alaya is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘basis,’ or sometimes ‘abode’ or ‘home,’ as in Himalaya, or ‘abode of snow.’
“So alaya has that idea of a vast range. It is the fundamental state of consciousness before it is divided into ‘I’ and ‘other’ or into the various emotions. It is the basic ground where things are processed, where things exist.
“In order to rest in the nature of alaya, you need to go beyond your poverty attitude and realize that your alaya is as good as anybody else’s alaya. You have a sense of richness and self-sufficiency. You can do it, and you can afford to give out as well.
“Compassion comes from the simple and basic experience of realizing that you can have a tender heart in any situation. From our basic training in meditation, we begin to realize our basic goodness and to let go with that. We begin to rest in the nature of alaya—not caring and being very naive and ordinary, even casual.”
Concluding: Love is the Answer
So, I am arriving at my doubt about divine benevolence. But doubt about God takes second place to how I, myself, happen to act out my benevolence. Robert Waterman encourages self-forgiveness. “If you have not been entirely skillful with people, and if your intentions were not always quite fully from love, it was pretty close to love. Always ask ‘love’ what to do no matter how many times you forget.”
A Little More…
The question arises for me regarding the claims of prophets.
“In religion, a prophet is an individual who is regarded as being in contact with a divine being and is said to speak on that entity’s behalf, serving as an intermediary with humanity by delivering messages or teachings from the supernatural source to other people. The message that the prophet conveys is called a prophecy.
“Claims of prophethood have existed in many cultures throughout history, including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, in ancient Greek religion, Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, and many others.” (Wikipedia, Prophet)
Based on my assessment of prayers of supplication, am I thus bound to observe, regarding prophesy, a similar thing—that the content of the prophesy and claim to be hearing God, begins and ends in the nonetheless inspired and good-intentioned mind of the claimant?
Still a Little More
Given my right of center agnosticism, it occurs to me that the wishing to someone, “God bless you,” needs unpacking. I do not like that my no-person God stance, set forth above, leads to some kind of denaturing of this outpouring of compassion in “God bless you.”
Let us join with believers, that there is the Godhead (God cum head) who is disposed to bless. Then my “God bless you” could be interpreted as my positive projection instantiated in the Person of the Most High, but essentially my personal goodwill.
If indeed there be no personal God, my formulation of “God bless you” stills stands, because albeit in the end it is arising from my own good heart.
I do hope I have wrung out all my second and third and fourth thoughts on the matter.
The Last Word To: Michelangelo Antonioni:
The Eye that Changed Cinema
(The Criterion Collection documentary– transcript)
Do you believe in God?
“It seems to me that in spite of all the crimes and bad things that happen in our world, there exists–what can I call it? –a moral purpose, which assists us, comforts us. If I can identify this entity called God with this moral purpose, then I believe in God.”
Why have I concluded with this remarkable expression of Antonioni? Because in viewing and hearing him, I became awakened to a conception of God that eluded me entirely as I pieced together my thoughts. In my opening remarks, I aver my clinical conception of a non-person God which is at least, or at most, an organizing, structuring and de-structuring principal of particles falling in the void.
My Church of Rome origins die reluctantly, as you might have guessed, as I struggle with the non-person divinity. I keep making efforts to justify some form of efficacious prayer, of divine blessings and of inspired prophesy, positioning these in the human head and heart rather than in a Godhead.
Antonioni does not refer to my struggle with the question of divine providence. He nonetheless enlarges God as a comforting moral purpose–again as a notion of a non-person God. But Antonioni’s “God as moral purpose” is so much more than my God as a mysterious, denatured, but nonetheless creating-forming and dissolving principal. Amen.
Just Kidding. Here is the Last Word.
I use the word God to describe the way everything knows how it is becoming what it is, and the way to be what it happens to be in the present moment, and how to become what it will be in the future.
Kind regards to all Arthur Panaro